Small Town Gay Bar
The best thing about “Small Town Gay Bar”, is that the documentary itself embodies the same spirit as the individuals depicted in the film: it’s not flashy, there are no hyperbolic testaments about small town ignorance, and the interviews are fucking ernest and poignant. The film takes place in many locations in and around Mississippi (MISS-ISS-IPP-I). Considering any preconceptions we might have, it’s quite hard to imagine any kind of flourishing LGBTQ community in good ol’ miss. However, that’s exactly what we see in the film.
The film starts out at Rumors gay bar in Tupelo, MS. The owner of Rumors, Rick Gladish, is the first to address the camera. Rick proclaims how important his bar is to the gay community, in fact, it is their social life. There’s quite simply nowhere else to go. We’re taken to many towns throughout the film, and they all have much in common: the local gay bar is the only place to socialize. We’re also shown numerous Christian alliances throughout the film. Every leader shares the same sentiment about the gay community, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how they feel. The most compelling interview from a member of a Christian church or alliance, comes from the notorious and despicable Fred Phelps. Phelps is very brash and candid about his abhorrence towards the homosexuals in his town of Westboro, MS. Watching Phelps explain to the interviewer behind camera that “God hates fags and so do I”, was confusing. Phelps explains that god hates people, and that god punishes the person, not the sin. This is incredibly conflicting with my preconceived interpretation of the bible in which god loves all of his children. Who am I to say, really? He also states that because he is shedding light on their eternally damning sins, that he is the only one who really loves the gays. Oh! holy Phelps. I understand thee! THE MAN IS A MAGICIAN, His logic is supreme and infallible. I digress. There was one magical moment in this interview in which Phelps unknowingly complimented the entire gay community of his hometown. Phelps wanted to garner some attention by putting an anti-gay sign in the park frequented by gays an lesbians in the area. This resulted in a retaliation by the gay community in which Phelps described perfectly, “The fags rose up like it was custard’s last stand!”
In the middle of film we are shown Crossroads gay bar, owned by Charles “Butch” Grahm. Crossroads looks more like a compound, or a convent. The property is sprawling and was created to be a haven for anybody in town or passing through it. The owner, and others who were at one time patrons, wax about the rowdy atmosphere and even rowdier patrons. Charles explains that people would come to crossroads with reckless sensibilities. The film itself is concerned with large social issues, but is about a few small lives and tiny bars. The moment we see crossroads is the only time in the film I felt I could not ignore drawing a parallel to a macro level cultural issue of every gay community: the perceived novelty of the gay bar. Moreover, we understand the plight of these individuals, but could never empathize. Each one has thick skin, scared tissue, and mental states of being so pragmatic, that they seemed to be quoting one another when describing their individual philosophies: “If you don’t like me, then fuck you”.
The film finishes on a wonderful note, one that inspires and leaves us hopeful. We should be hopeful; if gays can create harmony, and flourish within a community that doesn’t support them, then there’s hope for us all, yet. After all, there is nothing more sound in mind and judgment than a small benevolent community.